LOS ANGELES – His approval ratings at rock bottom and only seven weeks left to save his job, Gov. Gray Davis (search) took his anti-recall campaign on the offensive this week, and in doing so appeared to be plotting strategy straight from the playbook of politics' original "Comeback Kid," former President Clinton.
While in Chicago earlier this month to seek support from one of his most loyal political bases, organized labor, Davis met privately for more than an hour with Clinton. The former president, he told reporters, was a longtime mentor.
So it didn't go unnoticed by political analysts that soon after Davis seemed to be adopting a more Clintonesque style, making public appearances all over the state to sign bills and announce accomplishments and holding a televised address Tuesday to defend his record and denounce the recall as the work of right-wing conspirators.
Then, on Wednesday, he launched the first of a series of meetings with voters around the state that he dubbed "Conversations with Californians."
"Clinton did it extremely well and Davis is trying to follow his example," said John Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College (search).
He was skeptical, however, about whether Davis would be as successful.
Clinton, who used his charm to help defeat a sitting president in 1992 and, after that, his goodwill with voters to see him through the Monica Lewinsky (search) sex scandal, has long been known for his likeability quotient.
Davis, on the other hand is seen even by supporters as distant and boring.
"In terms of political philosophy, Davis is similar to Clinton, but he's a thin shadow of Clinton on a personal level," Pitney said.
"He's Clinton without the charm, Nixon without the dog," he added, a reference to the 1952 speech that saved President Nixon's career when he denied wrongfully accepting money from supporters but defiantly admitted taking one gift for his children, a dog named Checkers.
Not that Davis hasn't been trying to thaw his icy image. At one point Wednesday, he laughed with reporters as he confirmed the claim of actress Cybill Shepherd that the two had made out on a beach in Hawaii 36 years ago.
"This was about 20 years before I met this lovely lady," Davis said, laughing and turning to his wife.
"From Cybill Shepherd to Sharon Davis, that's all there is," he said, kissing his wife for the cameras.
At Wednesday's town hall meeting, Davis even invoked Clinton's name as he sought to portray his recall, funded by wealthy GOP Rep. Darrell Issa (search), as the latest in a string of right-wing Republican efforts to deny office to liberal Democrats.
"This recall is larger than just California. It's something that's been going on nationally for some time," Davis said. "The Republicans couldn't beat President Clinton in 1996 so they tried to impeach him in '98. In 2000, it looked like Al Gore might actually win but they stopped the vote count in Florida. Here in California, I won the election fair and square and now nine months later Republicans who financed this recall through Darrell Issa are trying to seize control just before presidential elections."
He also diverted from politics to talk about his life, including his parents' divorce, the time he spends with his wife away from work and the baseball coach who influenced him as a boy.
Earlier in the day, he appeared in Santa Monica with another Democrat, Sen. Barbara Boxer, to announce the awarding of $53 million in grants to protect California's environment.
And he promised, again, to remain focused on governing throughout the recall.
"He's trying to play it cool and trying to show he's just like you," said David Isagholian, a 36-year-old Los Angeles physician who attended Wednesday's town hall meeting at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood.
"It worked for Bill Clinton," Isagholian said. "It may not work for him."